What is the Damba Festival?

Damba (pronounced Dahm-BAH) is the most important annual festival of the various ethnic groups whose homelands are located in what is now the Northern Region of Ghana.  These peoples include the Gonja, Dagomba, Nanumba, and Mamprusi.  In northern Ghana, the Damba Festival is the celebratory highlight of the year, akin to the Christian Easter or the Jewish High Holy Days.

The Damba Festival has four different components.  First, it is a Muslim festival that commemorates the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.  Second, it is a political festival that provides occasion for giving homage to traditional chiefs.  Third, it is a family festival during which individuals return home to affirm familial bonds.  And fourth, it is a development festival that provides leaders the opportunity to communicate with members of the community in regards to enhancing the economic and social needs of the people.  The WDF 2012 Organizing Committee proposes not only to include all four of these dimensions but also to add a scholarly piece as well.

In its original setting, the Damba Festival lasts over several weeks, with a well-established sequence of ritual acts and ceremonial events.  Damba begins with the new moon in the eleventh month of the lunar calendar.  The elev-enth day is Somo Damba, when the birth of the Holy Prophet is celebrated.  On the seventeenth day, women “pick stones from the rice,” thus symbolically purifying the body politic.  Naa Damba (Chief’s Damba) happens on the eighteenth day.  The “big day” includes ritual sacrifice of a bull, honorific dancing, and a communal feast.  The festival ends the next day with a spectacular display of horsemanship that “sends the Damba home.”

Outside of the Northern Region, such as in Ghana’s large cities or in the worldwide African diaspora, the event usually is shortened to a weekend or one day.  Ghanaians in diaspora find cultural and ethnic renewal by enacting the event wherever the may be living and working. World Damba 2012 @ Tufts is likely to will draw a large and diverse crowd of people eager to celebrate their traditional heritage.

Snapshot of the activities in World Damba Festival 2012

World Damba Festival 2012 @ Tufts will be held in the Perry and Marty Granoff MusicCenter on the Medford/Somerville cam-pus of Tufts University.  The cel-ebration of Naa Damba will take place outside on Talbot Avenue, in front of the Music Center, weather permitting.

September 14 will include an academic symposium in the afternoon and a showcase concert in the evening.  On September 15, Somo Damba will take place in the morning, followed at midday by participatory workshops in music and dance styles of northern Ghana.  Naa Damba will be celebrated in the mid-afternoon, followed by the keynote address.  Damba Day will be topped off with a social dance party and live music.  Finally, on September 16, there will be a plenary session focused on community development in Northern Ghana and the diaspora.  The festival will end with traditional drumming and dance for sending the Damba home.

The Value of the World Damba Festival

In addition to its value for cultural affirmation and festive celebration, the World Damba Festival 2012 @ Tufts is an opportunity for discussion of community development issues and business promotion.  Northern Ghana is on the frontline of many global challenges: climate change, com-munity health, economic disadvan-tage, changing gender roles, the role of traditional chieftaincy within the modern state, ethnic conflict, and Islam’s encounter with the contemporary world.  Formal presentations such as the scholarly panels, plenary panel, and keynote address will engage these issues.  Throughout the weekend participants will have informal opportunities for discussion.  Information will be distributed about opportunities for employment, internships, and volunteering.

Location and Further Information

The Granoff Music Center is located at 20 Talbot Avenue on Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus. The events of the World Damba Festival 2012 @ Tufts are free and open to the public.  No tickets are required.  However, there is a registration process.  To register for events, please go to our Event Registration page or call the Granoff Music Center Box Office at 617.627.3679. For directions to the Granoff Music Center and parking information, please go to http://as.tufts.edu/music/musiccenter/visit/index.htm.


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